Looking over everything I’ve bookmarked recently, I noticed a few articles and quotes related to reading. I don’t just mean reading the Bible, though that is our main priority. I mean reading books, commentaries, articles etc. from Christian and non-Christian authors, scholars and pastors, both past and present.
As Christians, we believe God has spoken to us through His Word, the Bible. God chose to speak to us primarily through a book. Christians often refer to themselves as ‘people of the Book’. To know about God, we need to read about God. To grow in our love for God, we need to grow in our love for reading about God. Christians ought to be readers. Although this doesn’t come naturally to everyone, it is something we can and should learn to enjoy.
So here are a few random thoughts on reading:
The Necessity of Hard Books
John Piper, in God’s Passion For His Glory, outlines what Mortimer Adler had to say about reading hard books.
In his classic, How to Read a Book [Adler] makes a passionate case that the books that enlarge our grasp of truth and make us wiser must feel, at first, beyond us. They “make demands on you. They must seem to you to be beyond your capacity.” If a book is easy and fits nicely into all your language conventions and thought forms, then you probably will not grow much from reading it. It may be entertaining, but not enlarging to your understanding. It’s the hard books that count. Raking is easy; but all you get is leaves; digging is hard, but you might find diamonds.
Evangelical Christians, who believe God reveals himself primarily through a book, the Bible, should long to be the most able readers they can be. This means that we should want to become clear, penetrating, accurate, fair-minded thinkers, because all good reading involves asking questions and thinking. This is one reason why the Bible teaches us, “Do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20 RSV). It’s why Paul said to Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7). God’s gift of understanding is through thinking, not instead of thinking.
Learning from Great Theologians
In an interview for his book, The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide, Gerald McDermott explains why reading theologians from past centuries is important today. This is also relevant for reading and study in general:
Suppose you know there is a great woman of God in your church who has read the Bible and theology for forty years. She not only has deep knowledge of Scripture and how to interpret it for life and culture, but she also walks a holy life. People often remark on her humility and love.
What if you were to take the attitude, “I’m going to construct my own theology (which, remember, is your view of God) on my own, simply reading the Bible and theology books by myself.”
Wouldn’t that be odd, when you have a godly theologian in your midst? In fact, doesn’t this seem to illustrate sinful pride? It calls to mind the warning of Proverbs: “Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7b).
To ignore the great and godly minds of the church who have been ruminating on God for thousands of years—when now we have them at our fingertips through books and even the Internet—seems to be a kind of arrogance and presumption. It ignores the biblical reminder that there is wisdom in “the multitude of counselors” (Prov 11:14).
It also forgets another biblical observation that learning from other godly minds and comparing our thoughts with theirs is like “iron sharpening iron” (Prov 27:17), making our thinking about God sharper and clearer. The result will be deeper knowledge of God, which Jesus said is “eternal life” (John 17:3).
Advice for Slow Readers
John Starke offers some advice for slow readers
Compared to many, I am a slow reader. I have spent hours on speed-reading techniques to no avail. It’s embarrassing to read something together with my wife, since she usually gets a few paragraphs ahead pretty quickly. I can imagine the disappointment she feels to have to wait at the end of each page. It’s also frustrating to see many close friends moving along quickly down their reading lists, overwhelming me with “must read” suggestions. Maybe you’ve felt the same way.
For a few years now, I’ve used a reading plan that has helped me get through a pretty good number of books every month, despite my setback of being a slow reader. For the frustrated and overwhelmed readers, here are a few suggestions.
The Benefit of Reading Less
And finally, just to balance things out a bit, John Piper again, has this to say:
I [do not] want to give the impression that I think there is virtue in reading many books. In fact one of my greatest complaints in seminary was that professors trained students in bad habits of superficial reading because they assigned too many books. I agree with Spurgeon: “A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books which he has merely skimmed, lapping at them.” God save us from the allurement of “keeping up with Pastor Jones” by superficial skimming. Forget about “keeping up.” It only feeds pride and breeds spiritual barrenness. Instead devote yourself to boring in and going deep. There is so much soul-refreshing, heart-deepening, mind-enlarging truth to be had from great books!
If you want to benefit more, you may need to read less.